Some people remember where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated. Others what they were doing when the World Trade Centre was attacked.
I know where I was on a certain day in March of 1992. The day when Tony McCoy rode his first winner. It turned out to be a memorable day for us both. I won’t go into the details of what I was doing and, obviously, I had no idea that day of the siginifcance of a certain race at Thurles.
Many years later we would meet and sit down for a 35 minute on camera interview and I was taken by the quiet humility of the man.
Last weekend, less than twenty four hours after shocking the world of racing by announcing live on Channel 4 Racing that he would be retiring from the game, jockey Tony McCoy and his wife Chanelle jumped into the back of a cab at Dublin Airport. AP sat in the seat behind the driver, who was blissfully unaware of who he had in his cab. They asked to go to Leopardstown racecourse.
The taxi driver proceeded to ask Chanelle McCoy: “Did you hear McCoy is retiring?” He then went on to sing the praises of the soon to be 20 times champion jump jockey. The cabbie spoke of how much McCoy would be missed, especially by punters and by the knowledgeable racing fans of Ireland. The driver’s recital sounded like an obituary.
Tony McCoy could listen no longer. From the back seat, out of view of the driver, came a voice: “I’m not dead yet.”
Just imagine the shock on the face of that driver. I bet he’s been on the radio to his colleagues ever since: “Do you know who I had in the back of my cab?”
They’ve long loved AP in the Republic of Ireland. Yes, he was born over the boarder so he’s not one of their own. But they know their racing and appreciate a great jockey when they see one.
Great is a word I use rarely in relation to sport. It’s so overused these days as to be almost meaningless.
When the word is used in its proper context, we can say that Tony McCoy has been a great jockey. And not just that. But a great sportsman.
He’ll miss the buzz of riding winners, that’s for sure. And we punters will miss him also.
Not those who accused him of cheating or would point the finger when they lost money on one of his rides. But they’ll find someone else to blame next season. And they have no appreciation of what goes into being a master of your craft.
More than 4000 winners. 20 champion jockey titles come April 25th of this year and 40 years of age. That’ll do nicely!
I’ve met some very arrogant sportsmen in my time, writes Vernon Grant. Most of them with no reason to be so full of themselves.
AP McCoy has to be one of the modest men I’ve ever met. How a man so laid back out of the saddle can be so forceful in it will remain a mystery to me.
The tributes have poured in since the unexpected retirement announcement on Saturday. Friend and fellow jockey Ruby Walsh said: “I’ve been lucky to be in the sport at the same time as AP. I’ll definitely miss riding against him. What makes Ronaldo? What makes Messi? What makes Federer? He’s just unbelievably talented.”
Trainer and friend Jonjo O’Neill said: “What can I say that hasn’t already been said? A true legend of the game. The weighing room will be a lot happier than me!”
Nicky Henderson summed up the achievement of McCoy riding in excess of 400 winners: “Absolutely incredible. This isn’t ping-pong, it’s a tough, rough, gruelling sport.”
Former Grand National winning jockey Mick Fitzgerald paid tribute to his friend via Twitter: “Only three months left to see a legend ride. I firmly believe his record number of winners will not be broken in my lifetime. Also a true gent.”
As for the man himself he said: “I’m looking forward to having my first proper breakfast.”
Everyone has their favourite McCoy rides. I have two in particular.
The winning ride on the late, lamented but lovable Wichita Lineman at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival. There appeared to be no way the horse was going to win coming to the third fence from home. Only McCoy could have driven Wichita Lineman to win that day.
Likewise when he rode Drill Sergeant on the 27th of October 2010 in a less high profile race. I watched that race in disbelief. Drill Sergeant led and looked all over the winner. Then he put the brakes on and refused to race any further.
Here’s what AP told me when we met: “He was aware of the stable block he’d just come out of and he just stopped. He went from first to last. The horse is thinking: the stable yard is just to the right, what’s the point of me going around again?
“I knew he was a horse that had been around the block, he knew the score. Me smacking him wasn’t going to change his mind. He’s thinking what the majority of human beings would think. Why do I need to run around again when the house I came out of is just over there? I thought when the other horses came around him he’d decide to follow them which, thankfully he did.”
It was so typical of AP that he included ambulance drivers and doctors in his list of people he wanted to thank. He’s had so many bad falls, and sustained so many injuries, that he became expert at self diagnosis.
He said: “I’m probably the only person that will miss the falls. But it’s what challenges you in life and it’s what has challenged me for the last 20 years. The best decision I ever made was to become a jockey. I know I’ll never find anything to replace that buzz.
“But time waits for no man, and it certainly isn’t going to wait for me.”
So why now? McCoy says: “Could I ride three or for more years? I probably could. I’ve got a real thing about going out in a blaze of glory, as a champion. I thought I could ride 300 winners this season, but I got injured and that kind of broke my heart when it was taken away from me.
“I’m not going to be bitter, I’m sure of that. If I’m at Cheltenham wacthing a nice horse I can’t ride any more, there wil be sadness but nothing more. I’m a realist.
“I feel very lucky to have lived the life I have and I’m going to enjoy what’s left more than I’ve ever done. Every day of my career, I’ve woken up with fear, the worry of not being champion jockey, not being able to ride winners. Now, I can let myself enjoy it for the first time in my life.”
Read those comments and you get a sense of how Anthony Peter McCoy came to be one of the greatest sportsmen of my lifetime.
He looked especially delighted to win the feature race at Leopardstown on Sunday. Carlingford Lough was driven out by his never-say-die jockey to win the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup. Tony McCoy smiled from ear to ear and the appreciative crowd roared their approval.
I wonder if AP’s taxi driver had his money down.
Here’s an edited version of my much longer, half hour interview with AP,which is also available on You Tube.